The Europa League is finally getting into its business end this week as the final round of qualifying to decide who will join Atletico Madrid, Tottenham Hotspur, Lyon, Bayer Leverkusen, Academica, Rubin Kazan, Napoli and the losing Champions league qualifier participants in the Group Stage gets under way on Wednesday night.
The competition has been through several forms over the years and the recent revamp was supposed to give the competition a more ‘Champions League’ feel in order to increase its appeal and prestige.
However the competition has become almost the ‘League Cup’ of European football.
In recent years, English clubs have not taken the competition entirely seriously. Spurs and Stoke have been guilty of taking understrength sides into the competition as they prioritise, rightly so some might say, domestic competitions over potential Europa League success.
Newcastle and Liverpool are also participating this season but it has already emerged that Alan Pardew will use the opportunity to blood youngsters and rest first team players to keep the delicate ecosystem currently being nurtured at St James Park from shifting negatively.
So do we even care about the Europa League?
Last season Manchester United participated in the competition and whilst respect has to be shown for the technical abilities of Athletic Bilbao and Ajax who outplayed United at times in their respective ties you have to say The Red Devil’s did not seem to bothered about the competition.
Fulham performed well recently of course before succumbing to a superior Atletico Madrid side and the teams from the Iberian Peninsula are the ones who really take this competition seriously. In the last 10 finals of the competition half the competitors have been from Portugal or Spain, including 3 consisting wholly of this geographic pool.
It has also been a successful competition for clubs from the fringe countries of Europe to make a big splash on the continent; Zenit St Petersburg, CSKA Moscow and Shakhtar Donetsk winning the competition in the past decade.
It used to be a prestigious competition, towards the end of the last century some magnificent finals took place courtesy of teams such as Inter Milan, Arsenal, Galatasaray and Liverpool. Now with the ever expanding Champions League the Europa League is seen almost as the ‘plate’ completion for Europe’s elite.
A potentially brilliant idea would be to allow the winners of the competition automatic qualification into next seasons Champions League, adding a different subplot and dimension to potential Europa League success. But as this season gets under way will the English teams take it all a little bit more seriously or treat it as yet another unwanted distraction?
So why has Europes second competition worn thin on English minds, yet flourished on others?
image: © nicksarebi